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Terrorism destroyed idealism, medal hopes Israel's Rot still copes with '72 aftermath

July 20, 1992|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau

"That picture didn't move from my eyes for years," said Shlomit Nir-Toor, the Israeli swimmer who had awakened Esther Rot.

"After the attack, when we were back home, I had such bad dreams for a year. I would always be running, and terrorists with masks were chasing me."

The helicopters arrived at the airport to a bloody finish. West German police opened fire when several Palestinians walked onto the tarmac. In the fierce gunfire, a helicopter with four hostages was set afire by a grenade, and the five hostages in the other helicopter were shot to death. Five terrorists and a West German policeman were killed.

The Olympic Games recessed for a day and then continued, a decision that embittered some.

Lalkin said he agreed with the decision to not let terrorists cancel the Games. But he cannot help saying: "I wonder what would have happened if it were 11 athletes from Washington, or Tennessee, or France or England. I think it was easier to decide because it was 11 Jews."

Israel took its revenge. On Sept. 8, two dozen aircraft bombed Palestinian bases in Syria and Lebanon, killing between 30 and 66 Palestinians. The Israeli cabinet authorized assassinations of the massacre's alleged planners.

Last month, Palestinian intelligence chief Atef Bseiso was slain in Paris. The Israelis quickly claimed he had been one of the last xTC three living planners of the 1972 Olympic massacre, though they denied they killed him. They said, in effect, the account had long since been closed.

For Esther Rot, the aftermath was one of trying to reassemble her life. Her coach had been close, "like a father to me," she said. She stopped training, postponed her marriage, could not bring herself to go to the track.

But Lalkin urged all of the surviving athletes to go on.

"He said we should show that the terrorists could not break Israel," she said. She began running again, with her fiance coaching, and then entered competitions.

She won a medal in South Africa, then swept three gold medals in the 1974 Asian Games. Alone among the Munich athletes who survived, she entered the 1976 Montreal Olympics. She came in sixth in the hurdles, the first female Olympic finalist from Israel.

"I was no longer naive. I knew that power and money pull the strings, and the Olympics no longer held an ideal for me," she said.

"But I had a goal. I went to Montreal with the specific purpose of finishing an unfinished job. And I did it. I felt I did my best."

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